My current emphasis: how to make good habits and break bad ones (really)

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I have some fun getting my “Style Statement” from consultants Carrie and Danielle.

CarrieanddanielleThe first of my Twelve Commandments is to “Be Gretchen,” and one way to do a better job of “Being Gretchen” is to increase my self-knowledge.

This lofty goal also provides a good excuse to do things like read books about the Enneagram.

When I read Cynthia Kling’s article in Domino magazine, Phone Date with (Style) Destiny, about her “Style Statement” appointment with a team of consultants, Carrie and Danielle, I was intrigued.

Carrie and Danielle’s motto is “Communicate who you are in all you do.” Their “style statement” is a two-word phrase that sums up your personal style. It’s descriptive, but also prescriptive, because it not only describes you, it’s meant to help you think about your decisions and actions with more insight into what makes you happy. The first word in the phrase describes your dominant style, and the second word, the individual edge – in an 80/20 balance.

Gosh, that sounded fun. Knowing my “style statement” might boost my self-knowledge, right? I also have resolutions to “Experiment with psychological shortcuts” and “Try something new.” I decided to give it a shot.

I made a phone date with Carrie (on the left in the photo). For about an hour, she posed a series of questions meant to reveal my values, priorities, aesthetics, and approach to life. Then we took a break. When she called me back, she gave me my style statement.

Her analysis: I’m “Constructive Insouciant.” (Cynthia Kling was “Cultivated Wonder,” Carrie is “Refined Treasure,” Danielle is “Sacred Dramatic.”) The first word, “Constructive,” represents my foundation and fundamental nature. The second word, “Insouciant,” represents my creative edge, and, if I understand correctly, also the aspect of my personality that, while important to me, is at risk for being overwhelmed and lost.

So did I feel that “Constructive Insouciant” is a phrase that gives me insight into myself?

“Constructive” absolutely does feel like a great fit. Some of the observations that rang true were: loves order, patterns, cohesiveness…likes making things happen…like being clearly expressive…wants to get things moving in the right direction…often very driven…needs sound foundation of love and family, or can be overcome with worry…likes a look and feel that’s sturdy, complex, detailed, strategic, tailored, social responsible…

There’s more but that’s the idea.

At first, I wasn’t sure about “Insouciant.” I sure don’t think of myself as insouciant. But then I realized – a desire for more play, more creativity, more light-heartedness was a major motivation for my starting The Happiness Project. I have resolutions like, “Force myself to wander” and “Take time to be silly.”

Obviously I felt the need to bring more insouciance into my life – and the way I did it was typically “Constructive,” by carefully building a structure to include “play” and writing down appointments in my datebook for things like “browse in a bookstore.”

So I guess my style statement was pretty darned enlightening.

Carrie and Danielle have a book about the “Style Statement” coming out in several months, can’t wait to read that. Getting a phone consultation is expensive, so I think many people will be excited to have the option to read the book.

The Carrie and Danielle website has their Manifesto of Style, which I found very interesting. Now I’m inspired to try to write a Happiness Manifesto.

Re-reading this post, it strikes me as kinda flack-y, but all very sincere.

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I'm deep in the writing of my next book, Better Than Before, about making and breaking habits, and there's nothing more satisfying than reading the success stories of people who have changed a habit. If you have a Before-and-After story of a habit you changed, and you're willing to share it here on the blog, please contact me here. Once a week, I'll post a story. We can all learn from each other.

One key to happiness is finding more time to read.

BookstackcolorMy one of my chief resolutions has been to spend more time on books – reading, writing, and making books.

One sub-resolution was “Find more time to read books.” I’m puzzled by my reading. I seem to get more reading done than most people, and yet I feel like I’m never reading. It has been hard for me to figure out how to do more reading, because I couldn’t figure out when I was doing any reading.

I feel like I’m always working, or spending time with my children, or sleeping. Sometimes the Big Man and I watch a little TV.

Last night, I had a huge revelation about my reading style: I don’t like to read in bed before going to sleep. I love to read in bed during the day. I love to read all day long. But I don’t particularly like the before-going-to-sleep read, which is the most common time to read.

Why not? I’m sleepy. My mind wanders. I keep thinking of things I should do before I turn out the light, so I keep jumping out of bed. It just doesn’t seem like “real” reading.

Now that I understand my resistance to before-bed reading, maybe I can juggle my schedule to do my reading at another time. I’ve been trying to lengthen that before-bed period, without much success. Now I see I should try to find another angle.

Ironically, because I love to read, it’s often the last thing on my to-do list. I try to make myself check off as many items as I can before I allow myself to flop down with my book. But another of my resolutions is “Make time for fun” and I’m trying to be better about making time. For instance, I LOVE David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green, but I’ve been reading it for far too long. I need to make more time for it.

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Today’s New York Times had a great article by Brad Melekian, All Child-Play and No Workouts Make Dad an Unfit Boy. Bottom line: “Parenthood demonstrably reduces physical activity.”

Why? Some reasons: because parents have to negotiate with each other to get exercise time; because they’re exhausted; because they want to spend that time with their kids; because they assume that if they can’t do a proper work-out, there’s no point in getting a little exercise; and because they use their kids as an excuse to skip the gym. But even though it’s tough to exercise when you have kids, it’s worth the effort — for long-term health benefits AND short-term mood boosts.

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This Wednesday: Quiz — do you make other people unhappy?

ImageEvery Wednesday is Tip Day (or Quiz Day).
This Wednesday — Quiz: Do you make other people unhappy?

One of the most crucial keys to happiness is the ability to make other people happy. (In fact, a device to warn you if you’re being boring or irritating is in development.)

Many people, however, don’t realize that they’re not making people happy – quite the reverse. They have their own explanations for the things they say and do, and they don’t acknowledge how they’re affecting other people.

One of my favorite sections in Bob Sutton’s excellent book, The No A****** Rule (I’m omitting the title not from prudery but from fear of spam-blockers), was his quiz, also posted on his blog, Are You a Certified A******?. Some people don’t recognize the clues that should tip them off to people’s reactions.

So, inspired by Bob Sutton, I’ve put together this quiz, “Do you make other people unhappy?” Be brutally honest as you answer:

–Do you often find that when you do something nice for people, they do a lot of grumbling? Do they seem ungrateful or uncooperative? Do they seem reluctant to accept your generosity?

–When you join a group of people, does the mood often shift? Does a group tend to break apart after you join it?

–When you do something generous for others, do you think it only right that your generosity will allow you to make decisions for them or direct their actions?

–Do you find it hard to get your calls and emails returned by just about everyone?

–Are you often puzzled because the people around you seem dramatically to over-react to little mistakes, oversights, jokes, or casual remarks you make?

–Do you often find yourself saying defensively, “It was just a joke!”

–Do you find that people seem resentful and angry when you offer objective, helpful criticism or advice?

–Do you often find out that something you’ve done or said has caused an argument between two other people? (E.g., your son tells you that he and your daughter-in-law have been arguing about the lovely plans you’ve made for Thanksgiving.)

–Do you find that even when you’re trying to be helpful by explaining something or providing interesting information, people don’t want to seem to listen to you?

–Do you feel annoyed because people tend to refuse to acknowledge your greater experience or knowledge in an area, and instead, ignore your suggestions?

–Do people tend to gang up against you – when you’re arguing one side, everyone takes the other side, or when one person criticizes you, everyone else chimes in?

–Do you find it funny to see other people squirm?

–If someone asks for your opinion, do you think it’s right to tell them frankly what you think?

–Do you go out of your way to point out to people their mistakes or areas of incompetence – if possible, in front of others?

–If good fortune befalls others, do you feel that their good fortune makes it somehow less likely that something good can happen to you?

–Do your peers seem to have social lives that are very different from yours? Is everyone talking about going to weddings, to surprise fortieth birthday parties, to baby showers, to Christmas parties, but you’re not often invited to these kinds of occasions?

–Is it fairly common for one person to tell you that he or she will speak to a third person, so that you need not speak to that third person directly? In other words, do people volunteer to act as intermediaries for you, rather than let you do your own talking?

A “yes” may be a red flag that you’re a source of unhappiness for others.

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This Saturday: a happiness quotation from Mencius.

Mencius“The path of duty lies in what is near, and man seeks for it in what is remote.” –Mencius

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The happiness of getting a major boost in productivity: the RSS reader.

RssiconWhy, oh why, did I wait so long to start using an RSS reader?

I’m not exactly tech-savvy, and I’d convinced myself that using an RSS reader wouldn’t be much more efficient than just visiting individual blogs.

Finally, however, after getting a pep talk and some email coaching from Ben Casnocha, I decided to try to set up an RSS reader for myself.

I’d heard that Newsgator’s FeedDemon was a good service (there are many other good ones too), so without any further research, I signed up. Zoikes, I love it!

If, like me, you have only a vague sense of what an RSS reader might be, About.com has a good explanation.

In brief, an RSS reader allows you to open up your reader to see a list of all your chosen blogs, neatly lined up; by clicking on the title of the blog, you see an updated list of posts. This way of reading blogs allows you to cruise the blogosphere with vastly greater ease and speed.

The disadvantage is that you can’t see the comments, or post comments, without visiting the blog itself—but it takes just one click to do that, so it’s not very hard.

I still haven’t figured out how to use the bright orange icon (see top left-hand column) to add a blog to my RSS reader. I enter the URL in, instead. So I’m hardly a whiz at using the service – and still I love it.

One key to happiness is to challenge yourself, to learn something new. It can be frustrating and intimidating to learn something new, of course, but nothing beats the feeling of satisfaction when you finally figure it out.

In figuring out how to use an RSS reader, I reminded myself of several useful rules:
 “Ask for help” (thanks, Ben!)
 “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” (i.e., don’t do endless research to find the “best,” just find a good choice and act)
 “I am as smart as most people” (if lots of other people can figure this out, I probably can too)
 “Put myself in jail” (pretend that I’m in jail, so I have all the time and patience in the world to tackle a problem).

So give using an RSS reader a shot! And if you do, please consider subscribing to my RSS feed: Subscribe to this blog’s feed.